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22 March 1881|
Kulmbach, German Empire
|Died||6 July 1960
|Known for||Founding Rolex, the largest single luxury watch brand|
|Spouse(s)||Florence Frances May Crotty (m. 1911–1944)|
Born in Kulmbach, Germany and orphaned as a child, Wilsdorf worked for a Swiss watch manufacturer in La Chaux-de-Fonds. In 1905, he moved to London and set up his own business, wanting to provide quality timepieces at affordable prices.
In 1908, he created the Rolex brand under which to sell his watches, and during World War I, he left England for Switzerland due to wartime tax increases levied on luxury imports. In 1920, he established Montres Rolex S.A. in Bienne. The name "Rolex" was given because it is easily pronounceable in many languages. It was also short enough to fit on the face of his watches. Wilsdorf ultimately moved his company to Geneva in 1919.
By the start of World War II Royal Air Force pilots were buying Rolex watches to replace their inferior standard-issue watches. However, when captured and sent to POW camps, their watches were confiscated. When Wilsdorf heard of this, he offered to replace all watches that had been confiscated and not require payment until the end of the war, if the officers would write to Rolex and explain the circumstances of their loss and where they were being held. Wilsdorf was in personal charge of the scheme.
Wilsdorf also established the high quality, lower-priced watch brand Tudor, a subsidiary company of Rolex, in 1946. Upon the death of his wife Florence Frances May Crotty in 1944, he established the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, to which he left all of his shares in Rolex, making sure that an amount of the company's income would go to charity. The ownership of the company remains with the foundation to the present day. Wilsdorf died in Geneva, Switzerland on July 6, 1960.